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Book Review: My Ex-Imaginary Friend by Jimmy Matejek-Morris

Publisher’s description

Eleven-year-old Jack thought he had outgrown his imaginary friend, George—until his dad also disappears from his life. His mom’s bipolar disorder isn’t being properly treated, so while in the throes of a manic episode, she ditches Jack with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Jack decides that only George can help him figure out where people go when others stop believing in them—and how Jack can put his family back together.

Meanwhile, the imaginary George—half-walrus, half-human, all magic—has a problem of his own: with nobody to believe in him, he is slowly disappearing. Rejoining Jack is his only hope for survival. Or is it?

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, my heart broke for both Jack (real) and George (imaginary) as I read. Lots of us have had imaginary friends in life (mine were Boopsy, Bopsy, Beepsy, Goopsy, Gina, and Deena) and maybe have thought about how they affected our lives, but what about how we affect the life of that imaginary friend? How we create it, shape it, and, eventually, end it. Jack needs George in his life, but George needs Jack, too. Without him, he might just fade away.

Jack is dumped on a lawn near his aunt and uncle’s when his mother, in a manic episode, tells him she will be back in a week (saying that Jack is too much, that it’s all too much). Jack has been sheltered from what is going on with his mom, though he certainly has observed very dark periods for her as well as pretty unstable highs. He’s still reeling from his absent father having found “someone special,” which makes Jack feels extra unspecial, abandoned, and replaced. Bad timing for mom to leave, too. But maybe, with old imaginary friend George, they could find his parents. Maybe George can help fix everything. Working together makes sense, despite having been estranged for some time. Both Jack and George feel alone, abandoned. Both Jack and George need to be seen, be believed in. But Jack is just a young kid. And George is just an imaginary walrus-person. Can they make things okay for Jack, or do the living humans in his life need to step up and do what an imaginary friend and a child cannot do (and should not have to do)?

Narrated by both Jack and George, this complex story of family, care, belonging, and mental illness deftly illustrates how important it is to address the truth and the reality of mental illness. Jack’s mother has bipolar disorder and keeping this truth from him, keeping him in the dark about what that means for her and for him, has terrible consequences (again, see the whole heart breaking for Jack thing). Sheltering children is not protecting them. In fact, in this case, it’s actively harming Jack. His aunt and uncle reveal that his mother has had episodes like this, that she’s probably not on her meds, that whenever she comes back she won’t be the same, that she’ll need time to get help. That’s a lot for a kid to have been navigating alone with his single parent and yet be kept in the dark about.

This sophisticated and painful look at loving someone with a mental illness and the many missteps a family can make shows the challenges of loving someone during difficult times and the dangers of mental illness not being properly treated or properly addressed. I hope both George and Jack get the family and attention they deserve.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541596993
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Age Range: 9 – 10 Years

Clarion Books Spring and Summer 2022 Showcase

If you’ve read my frequent posts detailing new books, you know the deal: I get lots of book mail. LOTS. There are so many books here. I’m not complaining! I WANT to read all the books that show up here. I will TRY to read them all. At the very, very least, I will share them with you here in the hopes that YOU will go read them!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to young readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, my kid’s high school, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get (again, see: WANT, TRY), but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

Pull out your TBR lists or get ready to add to the orders for books that stock your library or classroom shelves. Today I’m sharing with you forthcoming titles from Clarion Books. All annotations are from the publisher. Scroll to the bottom to see what life is like working in my office at home.

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury (ISBN-13: 9780358639602 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 8-12)

In this modern take on Harriet the Spy, twelve-year-old Drew uses her true crime expertise to catch the cyberbully in her school—only to discover that family, friendship, and identity are the hardest mysteries to solve.

Drew Leclair knows what it takes to be a great detective. She’s pored over the cases solved by her hero, criminal profiler Lita Miyamoto. She tracked down the graffiti artist at school, and even solved the mystery of her neighbor’s missing rabbit. But when her mother runs off to Hawaii with the school guidance counselor, Drew is shocked. How did she miss all of the clues?

Drew is determined to keep her family life a secret, even from her best friend. But when a cyberbully starts posting embarrassing rumors about other students at school, it’s only a matter of time before Drew’s secret is out.

Armed with her notebooks full of observations about her classmates, Drew knows what she has to do: profile all of the bullies in her grade to find the culprit. But being a detective is more complicated when the suspects can be your friends. Will Drew crack the case if it means losing the people she cares about most?

Wow in the World: Wow in the Wild: The Amazing World of Animals by Mindy Thomas, Guy Raz, Jack Teagle (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358306894 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 03/01/2022 Series: Wow in the World Series, Ages 8-12)

Based on their #1 kids podcast, Wow in the World, hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz take readers on a hilarious, fact-filled, and highly illustrated journey through the animal kingdom!

Feathers, fins, fur, feet—the animal kingdom is made up of nearly 9 million known species! From flying fish to flightless birds, each living creature has a unique role to play in the life of planet Earth. In this book, Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz, hosts of the mega-popular kids’ podcast Wow in the World, will take you on a fact-filled adventure to explore the funniest and most fascinating animals known to humankind.

Sections Include:
Build your own insect!
Play hide and seek, chameleon-style!
Look for six signs you might be a fish!
And much, much more!

Featuring hilarious illustrations and filled with facts, jokes, photos, and quizzes, this book is a call to the wild kids of the world. Join us as we venture onto land and into the sky and sea to discover the WOW of Earth’s creatures, both big and small.

Freddie vs. The Family Curse by Tracy Badua (ISBN-13: 9780358612896 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 05/03/2022, Ages 8-12)

In this thrilling and hilarious middle grade adventure, a young Filipino-American boy must team up with his ancestor to break the curse that’s haunted their family for generations. . . or be trapped in an amulet forever.

Freddie Ruiz is cursed.

While other people may have bad days, Freddie and his family have had bad generations: from bird poop splatting on him during picture day to the many tumbles and trips that earned him the nickname Faceplant Freddie. He’s learned to lay low and keep himself out of trouble—which means no fun, no friends, and definitely no risks.

But when he discovers a family heirloom, a century-old amulet from the Philippines that’s supposed to bring good fortune, Freddie thinks his luck is finally about to change.

He couldn’t be more wrong. Because the spirit of Freddie’s cranky great-granduncle Ramon is trapped in the heirloom, and the evil spirits responsible for his death have returned with a vengeance. Now, Freddie and his cousin, Sharkey, have thirteen days to break the curse, or Freddie will join Ramon for an untimely afterlife in the amulet.

Crumbs by Danie Stirling (ISBN-13: 9780358467793 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 06/07/2022, Ages 12+)

Falling in love just got sweeter in this charming, romantic YA graphic novel from WEBTOON, the #1 digital comic platform. Ray, a young seer struggling with her powers, discovers first love and friendship in her town’s magic bakery.

In a very special town, there’s an even more unusual bakery with a selection of baked treats hand-crafted to help your dreams come true. For Ray, a quiet young woman with special powers of her own, the order is always the same: a hot tea with a delicious side of romance.

When Ray meets Laurie, the kind barista who aspires to be a professional musician, she gets a real taste of love for the first time. But even with a spark of magic, romance isn’t so simple. Both Ray and Laurie are chasing their own dreams and even when Ray starts to see the future, she can’t predict her fate with Laurie.

Based on the beloved webcomic from WEBTOON, this sweet coming-of-age story of friendship and first love comes to life in graphic novel format with gorgeous illustrations and exclusive content.

Sloth Sleuth by Cyndi Marko (ISBN-13: 9780358448938 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 06/07/2022 Series: Sloth Sleuth Series, Ages 8-12)

On an island crawling with crime, everyone’s a suspect. Luckily, its resident sloth can solve crimes in her sleep (and often does!). Meet Paz, the world’s first sloth sleuth. She may be slow . . . but she’s always one step ahead of the bad guys.

Pssst . . . hey, you!

Welcome to Winklefuss. Don’t get too comfortable—this tropical paradise is crawling with criminals. Luckily, Paz, the world’s smartest sloth detective, lives here, too! She can solve the toughest crimes in her sleep (and often does).

A mysterious illness is striking the customers of Cookie’s Diner. Could it be something they ate? (Spoiler alert: It is.)

As she investigates, Paz fills her fanny pack with clues. But who’s the culprit? Is it Mayor McSqueak, who was caught breaking into the diner? Is it Lacie Flamingo, fired after messing up orders? Is it Louie the Shark, who works for the toughest crime boss this side of the Bermuda Triangle (a fish in a bag)? Well, kid, you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

This hilarious graphic novel mystery is perfect for fans of The Bad Guys and Investigators.

Epically Earnest by Molly Horan (ISBN-13: 9780358566137 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 06/21/2022, Ages 12+)

In this delightfully romantic LGBTQ+ comedy-of-errors inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a high school senior works up the courage to ask her long-time crush to prom all while deciding if she should look for her bio family.

Jane Grady’s claim to fame is that she was one first viral internet sensations, dubbed #bagbaby—discovered as a one-year-old in an oversized Gucci bag by her adopted father in a Poughkeepsie train station. Now in her senior year of high school, Jane is questioning whether she wants to look for her bio family due to a loving, but deeply misguided push from her best friend Algie, while also navigating an all-consuming crush on his cousin, the beautiful, way-out-of-her-league Gwen Fairfax.

And while Janey’s never thought of herself as the earnest type, she needs to be honest with her parents, Algie, Gwen, but mostly herself if she wants to make her life truly epic. With a wink toward Oscar Wilde’s beloved play, Epically Earnest explores the complexity of identity, the many forms family can take, and the importance of being . . . yourself.

The Darkening by Sunya Mara (ISBN-13: 9780358561989 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 07/05/2022, Ages 12+)

In this thrilling and epic YA fantasy debut the only hope for a city trapped in the eye of a cursed storm lies with the daughter of failed revolutionaries and a prince terrified of his throne.

Vesper Vale is the daughter of revolutionaries. Failed revolutionaries. When her mother was caught by the queen’s soldiers, they gave her a choice: death by the hangman’s axe, or death by the Storm that surrounds the city and curses anyone it touches. She chose the Storm. And when the queen’s soldiers—led by a paranoid prince—catch up to Vesper’s father after twelve years on the run, Vesper will do whatever it takes to save him from sharing that fate.

Even arm herself with her father’s book of dangerous experimental magic.

Even infiltrate the prince’s elite squad of soldier-sorcerers.

Even cheat her way into his cold heart.

But when Vesper learns that there’s more to the story of her mother’s death, she’ll have to make a choice if she wants to save her city: trust the devious prince with her family’s secrets, or follow her mother’s footsteps into the Storm.

I Rise by Marie Arnold (ISBN-13: 9780358449041 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 08/02/2022, Ages 12+)

A heartbreaking and powerful novel about racism and social justice as fourteen-year-old Ayo has to decide whether to take on her mother’s activist role when her mom is shot by police. As she tries to find answers, Ayo looks to the wisdom of her ancestors and her Harlem community for guidance.

Ayo’s mother founded the biggest civil rights movement to hit New York City in decades. It’s called ‘See Us’ and it tackles police brutality and racial profiling in Harlem. Ayo has spent her entire life being an activist and now, she wants out. She wants to get her first real kiss, have a boyfriend, and just be a normal teen.

When her mom is put into a coma after a riot breaks out between protesters and police, protestors want Ayo to become the face of See Us and fight for justice for her mother who can no longer fight for herself. While she deals with her grief and anger, Ayo must also discover if she has the strength to take over where her mother left off.

This impactful and unforgettable novel takes on the important issues of inequality, systemic racism, police violence, and social justice.

The Antiracist Kid: A Book About Identity, Justice, and Activism by Tiffany Jewell, Nicole Miles (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358629399 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 08/16/2022, Ages 6-9)

From the #1 New York Times best-selling author of This Book is Anti-Racist, Tiffany Jewell, with art by Eisner-nominated illustrator Nicole Miles, The Antiracist Kid is the essential illustrated chapter book guide to antiracism for empowering the young readers in your life!

What is racism? What is antiracism? Why are both important to learn about? In this book, systemic racism and the antiracist tools to fight it are easily accessible to the youngest readers.

In three sections, this must-have guide explains:

– Identity: What it is and how it applies to you
– Justice: What it is, what racism has to do with it, and how to address injustice
– Activism: A how-to with resources to be the best antiracist kid you can be

This book teaches younger children the words, language, and methods to recognize racism and injustice—and what to do when they encounter it at home, at school, and in the media they watch, 

Edward and Charlie don’t like that I often come home from work and sit at my desk doing blog stuff. Shouldn’t all my attention be for dogs?!

Book Review: Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales edited by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos

Publisher’s description

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre. 

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet. 

Amanda’s thoughts

There’s something in this anthology for nearly everyone. Characters of all backgrounds and identities find themselves in classic romance tropes. Stories generally run 10-25 pages and are just long enough to capture the moment and feel satisfying. There are so many great anthologies out and I hope readers are finding them and discovering new authors to read.

Stories take place in all kinds of settings and genres. There’s a dog sled race, a mistaken identity on a car ride, a final exam at a magical academy, a secret-ish relationship between opposites, superheroes and villains, a fake Seder date, a birthday trip, an impending asteroid, and more. It’s kind of hard to really review an anthology, but I just wanted to write up this quick post to make sure people see that this fun new book is out. I know for me, concentrating on reading has become really challenging lately. I both want the escape but can’t stop my stress-brain from chattering at me. I’ve found anthologies and essay collection are the perfect thing to dip into. This was an entertaining read with great diversity and inclusion. What’s not to like?!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780762472345
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 12/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Under Cover Research, a guest post by Daphne Benedis-Grab

According to Matt,* a fourth grader at my school who often pops into the library to chat, I am a spy. I am also being spied on. This is because my future self knows what my past self has done and is doing right this minute. I love Matt because he says magnificent things that get me thinking in new ways, and also because in this case he explained in a nutshell how I research my books: I spy on my past self.

I decided to write a thriller because I have adored a good thriller my whole life. I discovered Lois Duncan when I was ten and devoured everything she wrote. I reread ‘Stranger with my Face’ so many times the cover fell off. But to actually create plot and characters, I needed to do some serious spying on Past Me.

The premise for ‘I Know Your Secret’ is that four seventh graders receive a series of texts ordering them to follow instructions or else their deepest secrets will be revealed. I came up with the heart of the premise by spying on Tween Me and recalling my love of the movie THE BREAKFAST CLUB. I have some issues with the movie now but at that time in my life it was a revelation: a group of disparate teens in trouble who slowly build trust as they sneak around their school and attempt to outwit the person who is attempting to control their actions. I also stole the timeline: ‘I Know Your Secret’ takes place entirely within in a single school day.

Ally, Todd, Gemma and Owen are also born of Past Me. Ally is adopted from Kazakhstan like both my children, and like them she has had to confront microaggressions about “real” family. She’s also a huge animal lover like both Past and Present Me. Todd is based on a friend I had back in middle school. I grew up in a white, working class town where my family stuck out a bit because we were middle class. Todd* came from an underprivileged family and often arrived at school messy and unkempt. He had acted out early on, and all of these things quickly earned the him the label of a “bad” kid. But Todd not a “bad” kid- he was an insightful, whip smart, fun kid who had some struggles going on that no one chose to help him figure out. I was too young and self-involved to ever find out his real story so in ‘I Know Your Secret’ I imagined my own version of his life, pulling from another part of my past: depression suffered by people in my family. And in ‘Secret’ Todd gets something I hope the real Todd found one day: people to understand and support him in his struggles.

Gemma is who Past Me wanted to be: confident and comfortable in her own skin, able to speak up for herself and others, and a very sleek dresser. To be honest I still aspire to fully embody these traits. And Owen is based on characteristics I’ve had all my life: the inability to say the right thing at the right time, excitement at adventure (even when that excitement irritates others) and profound desire for people to get along.

With premise and characters in place, the next step was figuring out how they built upon and impacted each other. The plot required unexpected turns, a confounding mystery and a clock ticking down to the moment where it either all comes together or all falls apart. But none of that would matter if the characters weren’t growing and changing as each event took place. For that essential piece I spied on a more recent version of me: my librarian self.

I work at a K-5th grade public school in Brooklyn with an incredibly diverse population of kids. During library lessons and during book selection I am both witness to and participant in their dynamics. I hear banter that turns into genuine baring of the soul, and arguments and struggles that injure. I meet kids who start off the school year cursing at me, only to share their secrets with me four weeks later. I wanted ‘I Know Your Secret’ to have all of that : banter, arguments, hard problems, soul baring and the incredible trust that can be born between surprising people in surprising ways.

When I spy on Past Me, the one who sat down with these ideas and story elements with hopes of writing a book, I am happy for her, for the fun and discovery that will come with  writing ‘I Know Your Secret.’ Yes, she will get frustrated and struggle and have to do an awful lot of editing. But like my characters, she gets to grow in the hard moments and have people around her to support the journey. And of course I also wonder what Future Me sees when she spies on current me as I begin work on my next middle grade thriller, what surprises and challenges lie ahead. Perhaps there is a way to ask her- I’ll have to ask Matt the next time he pops into the library for a chat!

*names changed

Meet the author

Photo credit: Greg Benedis-Grab

Daphne Benedis-Grab is the author of the middle grade novel The Angel Tree and the young adult novel Alive and Well in Prague, New York. Her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine. She earned an MFA at The New School and is an adjunct professor at McDaniel College. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two kids, and a cat who has been known to keep her computer warm while she is away from her desk.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/daphne.grab

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/daphne_bg/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DaphneBG

Official website: https://daphnebg.com/

About I Know Your Secret

One of Us is Lying meets Pretty Little Liars for middle-grade readers.

The email arrives Sunday night: Do exactly what I say, when I say it, or I will reveal your secret.

On Monday morning, seventh graders Owen, Gemma, Ally, and Todd, who have nothing in common and barely know each other, must work together and follow the instructions of an anonymous blackmailer. None of them want to go along with the blackmailer’s instructions, but each of them have a secret they must protect at all costs.

Set during a single day of school, the students race against the clock to complete a disquieting set of tasks, with fast-paced chapters detailing each moment of the day interspersed with a later interview-style recording made by the quartet.

I Know Your Secret is an exploration of why we conceal the truth, how far we’ll go to keep it hidden, and the power of being honest.

ISBN-13: 9781338746334
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 12/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

Publisher’s description

For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life—including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.

Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years. 

One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?

Amanda’s thoughts

If you know anything about this book, and have been reading my recent reviews, you’re probably like, “Let me guess—she read this book for the SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction that she keeps yammering on about.” And you’re right! I did! And like all the others I’ve read for this article, I’m so glad I had a reason to pick this book up (I mean, beyond the reason of, “I’m trying to read every book ever published!” which is a project that is futile, thus sometimes I need a real concrete reason to move a book from “maybe someday” to “right now!”).

When the pocket world Kiki has created in her sketchbooks turns out to be real, and Kiki is now in it, her anxiety has to morph from “oh no, if I left the door unlocked a goose may eat my mom!” (which, honestly, was such a relatable bit of anxiety brain—I mean, maybe minus the specific of the goose) to “can I get out of my own way far enough to save everyone in this world?!” That’s a big ask for anyone, but especially for Kiki, whose anxiety likes to make her worry about everything and doubt herself all the time. And in the real world, she tries to downplay how bad she sometimes feels. Her mom certainly seems loving and receptive and would certainly work to get her help, but Kiki doesn’t want to worry her. But it turns out if you end up somehow living inside a world you drew, you start to have more forthcoming conversations about mental health. This feels right, because Kiki threw herself so thoroughly into books and art as a way to distract from her anxiety, so I love that this very art literally helps her work out what’s going on with her.

The entire quest in Mysore is full of adventure, vibrant characters, and great details. Fantasy fans, whether they are familiar with Hindu mythology or not, will love Kiki’s journey. And while there is plenty of good stuff to say about that entire journey, I want to talk a little more about the mental health rep. I love that we are seeing not only more compassionate and accurate representation in middle grade books, period, but that it’s starting to show up beyond just realistic fiction stories. Because even brave (if somewhat reluctant) warriors can have anxiety! And even people with anxiety can become brave warriors! Kiki goes from feeling like her anxiety is her fault, like if she were stronger or braver this wouldn’t be happening to her, to understanding she has an illness that is just a part of her but not all of her.

Kiki learns important lessons on her quest. It’s okay to be messy and anxious and scared. You can still fight the monster, even if it’s in your brain. You can still be in control, be master of your fate, bear your teeth at the wolf. The monsters won’t always be there. You can take back your world. You just might need a little help along the way. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Asking for help makes you an even braver warrior.

A fantastic and empowering read.

ISBN-13: 9780593206973
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Series: Kiki Kallira #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: Fandom Passports, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

Since the Pandemic has limited travel in a lot of ways, I have found myself exploring the world with Fandoms. I have been reading and visiting multiple and new worlds this way. I decided to make a fun twist on the travel passport by creating a fandom passport where the teens could talk about all the worlds they have visited for their favorite fandoms. It’s a great way to be creative and celebrate the things you love while creating a momento to look back on some day and remember who you were and what you loved at this stage of your life.

Cost: $ 40 but it could be cheaper if you already had some of the supplies.

Supplies

1. Notebook

2. Paper with images from different fandoms

I had some pre-printed (Pride and Prejudice, Grishaverse, Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan, Among Us,  Percy Jackon, Lord of the Rings, She-ra, Various disney and Marvel, Animal Crossing, Star Wars, My Hero Academia, Sailor Moon and more) I tried to add as many maps and travel posters as I could find for my printouts

3. Some Washi Tape

4. Pen(s)

5. Glue sticks

If available: I also had extra fandom stickers that I put out

Instructions for patrons

1. Cut out the images from the paper.

2. Write out the word Fandom Passport in front. You can also use letters cut out from a magazine.

3. Place images where you want them. I like to have pages devoted to different fandoms.

4.  Place washi tape where you want it. This passport is yours so decorate and create however you envision it.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed doing this craft so I got into the spirit and got more washi tape for myself. It was super fun. One tip is to use a glue stick and not a lot of glue because you do not want your page of the passport to get super damp. The teens really liked it and were still working on it after the end time so I let them stay. I had this be an hour craft but it could be 1 ½ hours. You can also make it a Take and Make. I just put the washi tape in stripes on the paper and that worked. I did 30 craft kits as well as the in person craft.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Book Review: Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Publisher’s description

For fans of Inside Out and Back Again and Amina’s Voice, We Need Diverse Books cofounder Ellen Oh creates a breathtaking story of family, hope, and survival, inspired by her mother’s real-life experiences during the Korean War. Faced with middle school racism, Junie Kim learns of her grandparents’ extraordinary strength and finds her voice.

“Filled with unforgettable characters, this profoundly moving story about a girl’s search for self is at once both unique and universal, timely and timeless. A book that should be on every shelf.” —Padma Venkatraman, Walter Award-winning author of The Bridge Home

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.

Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.

Finding Junie Kim is a reminder that within all of us lies the power to overcome hardship and emerge triumphant.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is another book I picked up to read in preparation for my upcoming SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction. I have the luxury of reading at work when the kids do their cuddle up and read time, and I got so into this story that it was really difficult for me to not keep sneaking in a few pages here and there throughout the day.

Junie Kim is not feeling like herself. She’s cranky, cynical, sleeping all the time, moody, and just feels down. Those feelings eventually escalate to suicidal ideation, which lands her, thankfully, with a doctor and a therapist helping her through her major depressive disorder diagnosis. She gets good help, has supportive and loving parents, and is on medication. Readers see her move from one therapist to a second because the first was not a good fit. We see what therapy looks like for her and learn about mindfulness and emotion regulation. She has rough times, she gets help, she shares what’s going on with her to complete acceptance and understanding from people in her life, and we can rest assured that Junie is being well taken care of.

I picked this book up for its mental health rep, but was delighted to find so much else going on in Junie’s story (because, after all, a mental illness is always just one part of your story—it’s never your whole definition). Junie and her friends are dealing with racist vandalism at school and Junie hears a near infinite stream of racist garbage from certain peers. She and her friends brainstorm ways to be activists and to inspire their classmates to recognize racism and stand up against it. The other biggest piece of Junie’s current life is learning the stories of her grandparents’ younger years during the Korean War. Through their storytelling, we are put right back there with them, learning what they endured and dreamed of. Their own stories are riveting and their effect on Junie inspires action in her daily life as well as a deeper understanding of what her family has been through. An important read about standing up for yourself and others, about getting help, and about enduring. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this book.

ISBN-13: 9780062987983
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Gary Paulsen’s memoir, Huda F Are You?, Other Boys, and more

Post-it Note Reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. Partially this is because my way of coping with the many upsetting pieces of the past year has been to drown myself in reading, so I’m burning through so many more books and want to share them, in some form, here. It’s been so hard for authors to be able to promote their books, through things like release parties or festivals or other events, and I want to share as many books as I can particularly these days to help them get the exposure they deserve.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes are below each description.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen (ISBN-13: 9780374314156 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12+)

“A riveting, hopeful survival story.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A mesmerizing memoir from a living literary legend, giving readers a new perspective on the origins of Gary Paulsen’s famed survival stories.

His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, beloved author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

An entrancing account of grit and growing up, perfect for newcomers and lifelong fans alike, this is the famed author at his rawest and most real.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a book! What a life! Deeply moving memoir of neglect, trauma, and survival. A complex and emotional read that’s just as engaging as his fiction–maybe even more so. One of my favorite reads of 2021.)

J.D. and the Hair Show Showdown by J. Dillard, Akeem S. Roberts (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593111604 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/16/2021 Series: J.D. the Kid Barber #3, Ages 7-10)

Eight-year-old kid barber J.D. takes his talent to an Atlanta hair show in this illustrated chapter-book series.

At only eight years old, J.D. the Kid Barber has already won a barber battle and appeared on local TV. Now he’s the youngest barber to be invited to the Beauty Brothers Hair Expo in Atlanta! J.D. gets the VIP treatment—he takes his first flight, rides in a limo for the first time, and gets gifts from the show’s sponsors. At the show, there are hair classes to take, product samples to try, and some of J.D.’s favorite hair influencers to meet. And, of course, there’s his own demo alongside kid hairstylist, Isabel Is Incredible. But what J.D. is most excited about is snapping a pic with eleven-year-old rap sensation Li’l Eazy Breezy, which is harder than it sounds! The world of hair and beauty is so much bigger than J.D. could’ve imagined, and he’s ready to step up his game.

Check out the other chapter books in the J.D. the Kid Barber series:
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle
J.D. and the Family Business

(POST-IT SAYS: Loved this! J.D. is living his best life and so full of joy and enthusiasm. Large illustrations convey those feelings and give readers a look at J.D.’s amazing time at the hair expo. Quick, go order this series!)

Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, Rory Lucey (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781250219053 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

This middle grade graphic memoir by Charise Mericle Harper, featuring illustrations by Rory Lucey, follows a young girl who undergoes a crisis of conscience, realizing that she is a “bad sister.”

Meet Charise.

She’s energetic, helpful, a model pet owner and full of inventions.

But she’s also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel’s tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it? 

But most importantly… What does it mean to be a good sister?

(POST-IT SAYS: Reckless and often mean Charise doesn’t want to be a bad sister, but just can’t help herself. Her badness is the usual stuff of growing up, but leaves lasting impressions and creates real change. Perfect for fans of Hale, Holm, and Telgemeier.)

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593307359 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/16/2021, Ages 7-10)

The 1619 Project’s lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson. 

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. 
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.

And the people planted dreams and hope,
willed themselves to keep
living, living.

And the people learned new words
for love
for friend
for family

for joy
for grow
for home.

With powerful verse and striking illustrations by Nikkolas Smith, Born on the Water provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity.

(POST-IT SAYS: Profoundly moving. A beautiful book that’s a lyrical ode to strength, origins, ancestry, dreams, and pride. Stunning and full of emotion. This is not to be missed.)

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy (ISBN-13: 9780593324318 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/23/2021, Ages 12-17)

From the creator of Yes, I’m Hot In This, this cheeky, hilarious, and honest graphic novel asks the question everyone has to figure out for themselves: Who are you?

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

(POST-IT SAYS: One million more books about Huda and her family—especially that “invisible” sister—please! Great look at identity, personality, and acceptance. Heavy issues are addressed and balanced out by bright, cartoonish art and plenty of humor.)

Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman (ISBN-13: 9780593112472 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 10-14)

“Venkatraman has never met a heavy theme she did not like….Borrowing elements of fable, it’s told with a recurring sense of awe by a boy whom the world, for most of his life, has existed only in stories.”—New York Times Book Review 

The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings readers another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who’s unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom.

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard–and fraught with danger–in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of–but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he–and his mother–deserve a place in it.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pretty dark subject matter and perilous situations, but the fast-pace and can-do attitude keep it from feeling too heavy. Examines poverty, caste, religion, and incarceration. A complex story full of adventure and of hope.)

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, Stephanie Yue (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781984895639 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 01/05/2021 Series: Katie the Catsitter #1, Ages 8-12)

Calling all Raina Telgemeier fans! Introducing an irresistible new middle-grade graphic novel series about growing up, friendship, heroes, and cats (lots of cats!)–perfect for fans of GutsAwkward and Real Friends (not to mention anyone who loves cats!)

Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp–something that’s way out of Katie and her mom’s budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way to earn the money for camp herself. But when Katie gets a job catsitting for her mysterious upstairs neighbor, life get interesting. First, Madeline has 217 cats (!) and they’re not exactly . . . normal cats. Also, why is Madeline always out EXACTLY when the city’s most notorious villain commits crimes?! Is it possible that Katie’s upstairs neighbor is really a super villain? Can Katie wrangle a whole lot of wayward cats, save a best friendship (why is Beth barely writing back? And who’s this boy she keeps talking about?!), AND crack the biggest story in the city’s history? Some heroes have capes . . . Katie has cats!

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m obsessed! 217 cats! Superheroes! Activism! A diverse cast of characters! I loved all the details in the art, especially with those busy cats. Full of whimsy, humor, justice, and CATS!)

The Daily Bark: The Puppy Problem by Laura James (ISBN-13: 9781547608812 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/11/2022, Ages 7-10)

The first book in a charming new chapter book series about enterprising young pups who start a neighborhood newspaper, for fans of The Secret Life of Pets.

Gizmo is a city dog, so when he moves to the village of Puddle with his journalist human, he doesn’t know WHAT to expect. Certainly not FLOWERS. Or BEES. And he couldn’t have even imagined MUD. Luckily he’s got Jilly, the wolfhound next door, to show him around. 

But Jilly has a problem. Her puppies are going to be adopted by new owners who live far away — she’ll never see them again! Gizmo has got a nose for a story, and a great idea to help Jilly. What if the dogs of Puddle started a newspaper to get the word out and keep these pups closer to home? Stop the presses!

Perfect for fans of The Secret Life of Pets, this is the first book in a charming and humorous new chapter book series — featuring full-color illustrations — about the things dogs get up to when their humans aren’t looking.

(POST-IT SAYS: So cute I can hardly stand it! Sweet doxie Gizmo and his new friends live busy lives of jobs, caretaking, and adventure. I look forward to more Daily Bark stories!)

Other Boys by Damian Alexander (ISBN-13: 9781250222817 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 09/28/2021, Ages 10-14)

In Other Boys, debut author Damian Alexander delivers a moving middle grade graphic memoir about his struggles with bullying, the death of his mother, and coming out.

Damian is the new kid at school, and he has a foolproof plan to avoid the bullying that’s plagued him his whole childhood: he’s going to stop talking. Starting on the first day seventh grade, he won’t utter a word. If he keeps his mouth shut, the bullies will have nothing to tease him about—right?

But Damian’s vow of silence doesn’t work—his classmates can tell there’s something different about him. His family doesn’t look like the kind on TV: his mother is dead, his father is gone, and he’s being raised by his grandparents in a low-income household. And Damian does things that boys aren’t supposed do, like play with Barbies instead of GI Joe. Kids have teased him about this his whole life, especially other boys. But if boys can be so cruel, why does Damian have a crush on one?

(POST-IT SAYS: What an empathetic and tender story. All about gender, sexuality, family, bullies, and trauma. A really lovely look at how difficult childhood can be for so many reasons.)

Besties: Work It Out by Kayla Miller, Jeffrey Canino, Kristina Luu (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358521150 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/19/2021 Series: World of Click Series, Ages 8-12)

A fun and fresh graphic-novel series spin-off of the New York Times best-selling Click books, featuring aspiring entrepreneurs Beth and Chanda! When the girls land a lucrative dogsitting gig, they’re sure that fame, fortune, and popularity can’t be far behind, but nothing can prepare them for the mishap that throws their business plan—and friendship—into chaos!
 
Meet Beth and Chanda, two stylish best friends on their way to building their fashion empire! An unexpected business opportunity presents itself when the girls are asked to dogsit at Ms. Langford’s luxurious house while she’s away, but it quickly turns into a disaster after an accident leaves one of Ms. Langford’s prized possessions in pieces! Now Beth and Chanda have to take on as many odd jobs as they can in order to afford a replacement. Car washing, book sales, interior decorating—you name it, Beth and Chanda are there! Will they be able to patch up their mistake in time?
 
New York Times best-selling author Kayla Miller and co-author Jeffrey Canino deliver a vibrant and honest story about middle school friendships and personal responsibility. Accompanied by Kristina Luu’s fizzy, expressive art style, this graphic novel is the perfect companion to Olive’s existing stories.

(POST-IT SAYS: Great to see two kids working odd jobs to make money and learning lessons about responsibility along the way. I hope we see more stories about the characters from the Click series.)

Take 5: Great Reads for Younger YA, or Upper Middle Grade – whatever it is we are calling 12-14 year olds these days

There has been a lot of talk here at TLT and on Book Twitter about the age ranges for YA. I’ve been doing this job long enough to remember when YA was classified as 12 and up; Now most YA you will see designated as 14+. So I tweeted, part tongue in cheek, the other day: if Middle Grade is grades 8-12 and Young Adult is ages 14 and up, does that mean 13 year olds don’t really exist. It was part snark, but there is also some truth here: 13-year olds are vastly under represented in today’s youth literature.

I have seen some discussion, again primarily on Twitter, of making a new classification called Upper Middle Grade or Younger YA. And I have noticed that middle grade seems to be the new YA, with tons of longstanding YA authors making their middle grade debuts, including Ellen Hopkins, Gayle Forman and even Jensen favorite A.S. King has written a few MG novels, under the name Amy Sarig King. You will notice that we started covering Middle Grade here at TLT several years ago in part because it helps us better serve our teens on the younger end of the teen age spectrum.

So while it’s clear that the age categories are in flux and the market is once again trying to figure out what it means to write for teens and how to market them, I thought I would take a moment to highlight 5 books here for the younger YA crowd, or the upper middle grade crowd if you prefer.

Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi

Publisher’s Book Description: Fourteen-year-old Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi sets out to win the ultimate date to homecoming in this heartfelt and outright hilarious debut.

Parvin has just had her heart broken when she meets the cutest boy at her new high school, Matty Fumero–with an emphasis on fumero, because he might be the smoking hot cure to all of her boy troubles. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to homecoming, she’s positive it will erase all the awful and embarrassing feelings He Who Will Not Be Named left her with after the summer. The only problem is Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself has not worked for her in the past (see aforementioned relationship), she decides that to be the girl who finally gets the guy, she should start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those girls aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk. Easy enough, right?

But as Parvin struggles through her parent-mandated Farsi lessons on the weekends, a budding friendship with a boy she can’t help but be her unfiltered self with, and dealing with the ramifications of the Muslim Ban on her family in Iran, she realizes that being herself might just be the perfect thing after all.

Keeping it Real by Paula Chase

Publisher’s Book Description: Marigold Johnson is looking forward to a future full of family, friends, and fashion–but what will she do when it all explodes in her face? When she discovers that her entire life is a lie?

Paula Chase, the author of So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point, explores betrayal, conformity, and forgiveness–and what it means to be family–in this stand-alone novel perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Ren�e Watson.

Marigold Johnson can’t wait to attend a special program at her family’s business, Flexx Unlimited, for teens who love fashion. But Mari quickly realizes that she’s out of place compared to the three other trainees–and one girl, Kara, seems to hate her on sight.

As tension builds and the stakes at the program get higher, Mari uncovers exactly why Kara’s been so spiteful. She also discovers some hard truths about herself and her family.

Paula Chase explores complex themes centering on friendships, family, and what it means to conform to fit in. Keeping It Real is also a powerful exploration of what happens when parents pick and choose what they shield their children from. Timely and memorable, Paula Chase’s character-driven story touches on creativity, art, fashion, and music. A great choice for the upper middle grade audience.

You’ll want to check out other titles by Paula Chase for this age group as well.

Violets are Blue by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s Book Description: From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

You’ll also want to check out Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee for this age group as well.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Publisher’s Book Description:

Award-winning YA author Brandy Colbert’s debut middle-grade novel about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past.

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems. 

Some of Brandy Colbert’s books are most assuredly upper YA – brilliant, but not necessarily middle grade friendly. But this title is solidly in the upper Middle Grade category and it’s a great read.

Most Titles from Rick Riordan Presents

Rick Riordan wrote the Percy Jackson series, which was right in the sweet spot for that transition from middle grade to YA, appealing to readers of all ages. And now he has his own publishing imprint where he publishes mythology from around the world and gives a platform to authors of color and each and every one of the titles is just as appealing to all ages as his own work.

Some other great resources for you:

55 Best Upper Middle Grade Reads

50 Middle Grade Books for Ages 11-15

You can also check out the hashtag #UpperMiddleGrade on Twitter

Book Review: Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Publisher’s description

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Amanda’s thoughts

Hard to do better than this book. Rosena Fung makes it clear just how cruel, smothering, and omnipresent mental illness can be as Viola, Livy’s anxieties, tags along behind her all day, shouting a constant stream of lies and worst-case scenarios at her. Livy is trying to navigate her 6th grade life, but it’s hard when there is just so much to worry about. She finds solace in books and art, but it’s hard to keep Viola quiet, even if Livy is otherwise occupied. She’s at a new school and figuring out new friendships. She’s self-conscious about her parents’ jobs and what her home is like. She’s made to feel inferior to how her cousins are doing and what their goals are. Even her lunches aren’t “right”—other kids make fun of how they smell, making her even more self-conscious about everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere, and a lot of that is just typical middle school stuff that will probably get worked out as time goes on, but a lot of it is specifically Viola, or her anxiety. It has a special knack for trying to ruin absolutely everything and gripping onto the smallest thing and making Livy feel terrible as she fixates on it.

Hard as all that is, there is so much good that happens over the course of the story. Friend things get figured out, though there are some rocky moments, Livy learns to share pieces of her home life and her culture with her new friends, and, most importantly, Livy finally confesses all of her fears and stresses to her parents, who get her help. When she tells new friend Charlotte what’s been going on, she shrugs it off as perfectly normal—her sister is in therapy too—it’s no big deal. Livy learns coping mechanisms that will begin to keep the worst of her anxiety at bay and will ground her in hard moments. An author’s note explains how Livy’s experiences mirror so many of Fung’s while growing up.

I am so glad that not only are we seeing so many more middle grade stories that address mental health concerns, but that we’re seeing these stories presented in a variety of ways. The graphic novel format is well-suited for this story as readers will see the impact of what it’s like to have a mental illness tagging along beside your every move. Smart, empathetic, and hopeful. I loved this.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781773215488
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years